Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Always Freedom's Fault

Tibor R. Machan

In the middle of the financial scares I went to a little college in New Hampshire to debate whether politics ought to be about moral virtue of individual liberty. I took the position that even if one means to promote moral virtue, one must do so by first securing the right to liberty for all. It is not moral virtue if men and women aren't free to choose their conduct. Regimenting adult human beings to act properly, ethically, just doesn't cut it as a way to promote human morality.

My opponent argued that politics should be about promoting morality and that the individual8ism implicit in my position is dangerous--he even claimed that Hitler's Nazi politics arose because of too much individualism! While he was advocating a conservative program, in fact, as I understood him, his objections to the libertarian alternative were no different from the Left's communitarianism which also blames everything on individual liberty and claims that individualism is actually atomism, the idea that people are self-sufficient and are able to thrive without society.

The debate was conducted at a pretty academic, abstract level although sometimes we made reference to current events to illustrate some of our points. What was rather remarkable for me is just how eagerly my conservative opponent found fault with the classical liberal viewpoint because of its embrace of individual liberty as the prime public good. As I returned to earth from the debate and resumed listening and reading about the current problems on Wall Street and what politicians say and want to do about it, I noticed that mainstream figures in both parties also targeted liberty as the culprit, claiming that recent erratic and halfway deregulations of the financial markets--supposedly a perfect example of championing fully free markets--is responsible for it all. None of the mainstream commentators took any notice of the fact, pointed out in a recent comment by Professor Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University, that it was free market economists who warned about the policies that ushered in the current problems. Indeed, as these economists noted, the policies of the fed and other governmental--and governmental sustained outfits like Freddy and Fanny--can be clearly identified as precipitating the credit crises.

More generally, despite the fact that the likes of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a Princeton University economists, keep repeating that some mythical market fundamentalism that's running rampant across the country and the world, is causing all the trouble, free market economists from such institutions as the University of Chicago, George Mason University, the Austrian School and the Cato Institute have been warning that government meddling in the market place will have dire consequences. The most general lesson, as I see it, is that governments are forever giving special breaks to people everywhere who are only too eager to take on risks that then they need to cover but can count on government to do so. This is often a hidden agenda but when one removes all the mambo jumbo from the legislation and regulations, it is really the bottom line: You can do whatever you like and not reckon with the consequences because Uncle Sam will bail you out every time.

And this is then labeled market fundamentalism? Go figure. But the people who environ themselves as ruling the rest of us do not stop with their efforts to besmirch freedom, including, especially, free markets since only by discrediting this most productive, most just institution do they have a chance to turn enough citizens against it and gain the control they so desperately seek. I can only express the strong hope that they will not succeed. And maybe pointing this out often enough will stop them. (By the way, anyone who wishes to read some really solid economic analyses about the current situation and the history that has produced it should check out Even thought the mainstream media ignores this very valuable source, perhaps they will not succeed at suppressing its content by focusing mostly on surface matters instead of the substance.)

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